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May 01, 2024

Helen’s learning new communication skills in her Northcott home

Housing News

What is Key Word Sign?

Key Word Sign is a simplified form of manual signing that is designed to be used by and with people who have communication difficulties. It differs from AUSLAN (the sign language of the deaf and hard hearing community) because verbal speech is used along with the signs and only key words of the message are signed.

About Helen

Helen moved into Northcott’s home in Lake Albert (Wagga Wagga) around four years ago, relocating from a disability facility in Newcastle. She is non-verbal and has limited communication. Helen’s strong will and determination are only a few ways of describing her bright personality, explains Jack, Northcott Service Coordinator in Helen’s home.

Helen’s progress

The team working at Helen’s house have been an important source of support for Helen since she moved to Wagga Wagga.

The team started working on a communication wall featuring Key Word Signs as a part of a house-wide communication strategy. Helen was the housemate who adapted to the Key Word Signs the most, responding positively to signs and Objects of Reference.

“Helen will get quite frustrated when she wants to go out. Previously we didn’t have a way to explain to Helen ‘yes’ or ‘no’ or ‘later’. Now we can, and we see Helen is a lot less frustrated when waiting to go out.

“We’ve also noticed that showing Helen the coffee cup object always elicits a positive response, usually tears of joy and a dance!” Jack says.

Helen’s speech pathologist, Claudia Westcott is also pleased by the progress Helen has made.

“It’s been great to see Helen use a combination of Key Word Sign and Objects of Reference to communicate her needs and wants,” she says.

“I first started working with Helen in April 2021.

The therapy has predominately included staff training on what is communication, general communication strategies and Key Word Signs and Objects of Reference

Claudia, Northcott Speech Pathologist

Next steps

With some simple signs now part of her communication, the focus for 2024 is on growing Helen’s Key Word Sign vocabulary.

“This year, I’ll continue to work on implementing Key Word Sign with Helen, specifically for when she is at home and also at her day program,” says Claudia.

Jack and his team are also keen to see Helen’s skills develop further.

“The sign for ‘coffee’ is a big one we want Helen to learn as she is an avid fan of coffee,” he says.

Helen’s team

Jack says the dedicated team at Helen’s home are a big reason her communication skills are developing.

“I want to give a shout out to my team. They are a real example of how easy it is to provide people centred support. They have persevered through some challenging times and still provide a high level of support and care. I’m really proud of them.”

“Helen’s achievement is also a testament to the good work we are all capable of with the support of Northcott and our community. It’s not just empowering for the customer but also for the staff.”

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